Dietary fasting reviews

Prompted by FitnessBlackBook to investigate fasting as an adjunct to exercise, I purchased three books by MDs on fasting: Fasting and Eating for Health, The QOD Diet, and The Alternate-Day Diet. These three books have quite different focuses. The first is about extended fasts, the second about intermittent fasting for weight loss, and the third about intermittent fasting as a lifestyle for life extension.

My interest in fasting was not in finding a new lifestyle or panacea. Rather, I thought it sounded like intermittent fasting might be a simplistic (if not necessarily easy) way of periodically reducing calories for weight loss. What I wanted to do in ordering these books was to cover my bases in terms of possible health problems, see if there was a body of intermittent fasting knowledge out there already, and see if there were any interesting tips. The answers to my questions were no, no, and no. Basically, if you take a day where you eat a little protein in the morning and drink water during the day, there's nothing to know about fasting that day except that you don't eat. If you start getting more frequent, there could be an issue with hyponatremia.

I'm probably going to try fasting this week on Tuesday and Thursday. Check back to see how it goes. And now for the book reviews...

What I didn't realize when I ordered it is that Fasting and Eating for Health is not a diet book. It is about long-term (up to 1.5 months!) doctor-supervised fasting as a medical treatment for disease. There's no program you can do on your own. Moreover, most of the book is not even about fasting so much as a promotion of vegetarianism. The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, whose president provides a forward, is a front-group for PETA, and the book makes some extreme claims like meat is more dangerous than cigarettes. Nothing is too corny to prove that self-deprivation is good for you. The author talks about lettuce tasting sweet after the fast and processed foods like chemicals. Well, I know he's right because I experienced this phenomenon myself while on... The Atkins Diet!

Importantly, the book was written in the early 1990's, and we have learned a lot about fitness and health in the last two decades. Even Dean Ornish, who is referenced multiple times in this book, no longer recommends super-low-fat vegetarian diets. Times have changed. Nevertheless, I can believe that medically-supervised fasting can improve symptoms of some diseases. (This is discussed in The Alternate-Day Diet as well.) The only valuable part of this book is an introduction to management and problems of fasting for health care professionals.

Of the three books, The Alternate-Day Diet has the most theoretical background, including discussion of epigenetics. It is lifestyle-oriented and focused on long-term health and lifespan. If you're looking for a program you can do at home but want to be sold on science, this is the book for you. The program (or eating plan, or lifestyle, if you will) is simple and straight-forward and you could easily imagine yourself doing it for an extended period of time, if not years or for a lifetime. The book is a fast read.

Unlike the Alternate-Day Diet, the QOD Diet promotes itself as a short-term weight-loss program that is NOT for a life-time. The main difference between the Alternate-Day and QOD diets is that QOD recommends more calorie restriction on the fasting days. The book also has a lot of minor recommendations about managing your salt intake with vegetable juices and other extraneous matters. If you like to obsess over things (like weighing yourself twice a day) and like being managed with "medical recommendations," then you'll like QOD better than Alternate-Day.

Both QOD and Alternate-Day have companion websites, although Alternate-Day's companion website is mostly just shilling for the author's Resveratrol supplements. If I were only going to recommend one of the three books I purchased for someone else, it would be The Alternate-Day Diet. If I were only going to keep one, it would be a toss-up between Alternate-Day and QOD. If I were talking to a patient, I think I would talk to them about fasting rather than recommending a book. You can take from that what you'd like.

Other interesting-looking books I haven't read yet:
  • The Idiot's Guide to Fasting (by Fuhrman) - includes information on fasting for different lengths of time
  • The Fasting Handbook - includes specific fasts such as fasting from carbs, fasting from proteins, fasting from mucinogenic foods, etc.
  • Fasting: The Ancient Practices - about fasting in the Christian tradition
  • Eat to Live (by Mehmet Oz and, again, Fuhrman) - appears to be a re-packaging of Fuhrman's previous work, including recommendations against eating meat
  • Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat - this book seems to promote some sort of short breaks from food like the author's other book The Warrior Diet, which recommends eating one large meal a day at night. I find claims by Warrior Diet users of feeling euphoric during the day to be either unlikely or from placebo.
  • The CR Way & The Longevity Diet - these are books on calorie restriction, which is probably the leading (theoretical) method for life extension. The Alternate-Day Diet is supposed to be an easier way to calorie restrict and get health benefits.
Other fasting books:
One Amazon reviewer said all the information on fasting is available on the Internet, which may be true as well.

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